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Saving Sailor

This contemporary Christian book is the first of two by Renee Riva and is published by David C. Cook.

Saving Sailor is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary

In 1968, 10-year-old A.J. Deguilo and her boisterous Roman Catholic Italian family spend the summer at Indian Lake in Idaho where her father, Sonny, is the park ranger. With her dog, Sailor, always at her side, A.J. perfects her fake southern drawl and spies on her teenage sister, Angelina, who likes to kiss boys. Her family's oddities include her mother getting dressed up, finding strangers and pretending to be Sophia Loren, right down to signing autographs. They all ride around the lake in a pink boat like the one in the movie The African Queen. A.J. goes to confession several times and goes to catechism weekly. She is always getting into trouble but seems to settle down and grow up a little after meeting Danny, a boy her age who's visiting the lakes with his mother. The two have a platonic relationship, and A.J. is saddened to learn Danny's father had "a slumber party" with a lady friend back home. Danny's problems give A.J. a new perspective on her crazy family and an appreciation that her mother and father are devoted to one another. Danny's dad, who routinely drinks to excess, comes to the lakes to ask his wife and Danny for forgiveness. A.J. witnesses to Danny's dad. One night A.J.'s family goes out without A.J., who is sick and stays home. She can't resist going for a drift in the canoe. A storm comes up. A.J. finds herself in danger and prays to God for safety. Sailor helps her, but A.J. bashes her head and needs 40 stitches. Danny's dad learns to appreciate people more, and he accepts Christ as his Savior. The summer ends, and A.J.'s family heads for an extended visit to see family in Italy. Danny keeps Sailor for A.J., and the two of them exchange letters. At age 18, A.J. goes to visit Sailor and Danny, who is a youth minister. They drift away in a canoe, which is where the story ends.

Christian Beliefs

A.J.'s family is Roman Catholic, and they attend mass, are taught by nuns, go to confession and take catechism classes. Her grandmother has lots of statues of saints at her house because she thinks they protect her. Her grandmother is portrayed as needy, and her father dreads her calls. A.J.'s parents share their faith, and the family prays together and individually. A.J. doesn't get to know Danny's mother, and A.J. takes a leadership role in Danny's dad's life because she explains why Danny is so hurt. Danny's dad doesn't seem to understand how deeply he has hurt his family until A.J. speaks to him.

Authority Roles

Nuns tell A.J. about sin and confession. Her parents teach her their philosophy of life and belief in Jesus. Her mother acting like Sophia Loren seems odd, but she is shown as a strong Catholic.

Other Belief Systems

Some of A.J.'s relatives have a lot of money and put her family down for not having a boat that is nice and for other things. A.J.'s dad tells her that money doesn't add to a person's value or give people a better life. Before he became a Christian, Danny's dad drinks and has an affair. He doesn't initially feel bad about his actions. Danny's dad comes to the lakes because he wants them home, not because he feels he has done something wrong and wants forgiveness.

Profanity/Graphic Violence



A.J. observes her teen sister kissing a boy a couple of times. A.J. feels sorry that her sister seems to need boys in order to feel secure and that she is somewhat promiscuous. Danny's Dad's affair is referred to as having "a slumber party."



Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • What does A.J. raise money for?
    What does she do with the money she raised?
    How does she find forgiveness for spending a charity's money?
    When you have done something wrong, what do you do to make things right with others and before God?
  • What are some spiritual disciplines that you practice as part of your faith?
    What spiritual disciplines do you see others doing that you don't feel are necessary?
    Which of these are mentioned in the Bible?
  • What do A.J.'s relatives have?
    Where do they stay?
    How can A.J.'s dad be happy with a simpler boat and a less expensive place to stay?
    What does he feel is more important than money?
    Do you agree with A.J.'s dad or his relatives? Explain.
  • What did a nun tell A.J. about sins never being a secret?
    Do your sins hurt other people? Give one example.
    What were the consequences of your sin to you and to others?
  • What was your impression of A.J.'s mom acting like Sophia Loren?
    What have you done for fun that you thought was harmless but ended up hurting someone?

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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